Hermantown falls in Class AA softball semifinals

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. -- Jillayne Gilbert and her Hermantown softball teammates knocked the cover off the ball in their opening high school state tournament game Thursday, but that didn't faze Kasson-Mantorville pitcher Maddie Damon.

Hermantown’s Kailey Mihalik is surrounded by excited teammates following a two-run home run against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Class AA state quarterfinals on Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato. (Trevor Cokley / Forum News Service)

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. - Jillayne Gilbert and her Hermantown softball teammates knocked the cover off the ball in their opening high school state tournament game Thursday, but that didn’t faze Kasson-Mantorville pitcher Maddie Damon.
Damon kept those bats silent, allowing only a seventh-inning infield dribbler, in the KoMets’ 4-0 victory over the Hawks in a Minnesota Class AA semifinals at Caswell Park.
Damon, who has signed with Division I Purdue University, struck out 13 and walked just one, nearly becoming just the fourth pitcher in state tournament history to throw two no-hitters in the same tournament. She whiffed 14 in a 3-0 no-hitter over Milaca earlier in the day.
“Maddie is the ultimate competitor,” KoMets coach Jeff Fague said. “When she sees the level is rising, she will meet it. I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to watch her for five years.”
Damon led Kasson-Mantorville (25-2) to the state title a year ago - beating Hermantown 4-1 along the way - and now goes up against Maple Lake today in an effort to defend.
Hermantown (22-6) faces New Ulm for third place at 11 a.m.
“The defense had a great game tonight and really picked me up, and that gives you so much confidence to trust your pitches,” Damon said, deflecting praise from herself.
But there’s no denying the 89-pitch gem the right-hander tossed.
“She doesn’t give you the ball to hit where you want it. Her pitches move really well in and out of the zone,” said Gilbert, a senior shortstop, who hit two home runs and had five RBIs in an 8-1 quarterfinal win over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. “We needed to string the hits together to get anything going, especially the way they started out.”
Damon, batting leadoff, needed only one pitch to provide her all the runs she needed, hitting a Breanna Thomas offering over the center-field fence in the first inning.
“The coach from Mankato East told me not to pitch to her, so she hits the first pitch 3 inches below her knees out of the ballpark,” Hawks coach Tom Bang said. “I thought, ‘I should have listened.’ ”
Kasson-Mantorville added three runs in the second inning, while the Hawks could only manage a Jordyn Thomas walk in the first inning and a slow dribbler from Thomas with one out in the seventh to break up the no-hit bid. Damon has nine perfect games in her career and well into double figures in no-hitters.
Gilbert cracked two over-the-fence home runs in a one-sided victory over once-beaten Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
Gilbert, a senior shortstop, hit a solo homer in the fourth, drove in two more runs with a single in the fifth and capped the win with a two-run shot to left-center field in the seventh.
“Sometimes you can time a pitcher just right and it’s in your zone,” Gilbert said. “When you make contact and swing hard, it goes.”
Bang has seen that stroke for several years, especially in critical situations.
“It was nice to get a hot hitter and a confident hitter up there,” Bang said. “She’s got power and can lose the ball (over the fence) at anytime.”
Sophomore third baseman Kailey Mihalik also hit a two-run homer to open the scoring in the second inning and went 3-for-4 as the Hawks recorded 14 hits. Seniors Ashley Irwin and Brooke Dahlin and eighth-grader Hailey Mihalik each had two hits.
“We got production up and down the lineup; it was nice to see a top-to-bottom offensive production,” Bang said.
Hermantown forced starting pitcher Sydney Honek from the mound in the fifth inning after the senior allowed eight hits and six earned runs.
“They hit the ball and hit it hard,” DGF coach Ron Drechsel said. “Their home runs were line drives. Our pitcher didn’t hit her spots and got the ball up, and you can’t do that against a good-hitting team.”
DGF lost 5-2 to Milaca in the consolation round.
“You come down here and you expect to see teams like that,” Drechsel said. “But they hit it hard and didn’t give us a chance to play defense. We had some chances, too, with kids on base, and that could have changed the outcome a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Breanna Thomas scattered seven hits, struck out four and walked three.

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